Feeling anxious? Recognize the signs and learn how to cope
By Scott R. Mote, Esq., Executive Director of the Ohio Lawyers Assistance Program
At the beginning of the pandemic, in a short period of time, judges had to learn a new way to run their courts. They had to determine who would work from home, and who was required to work at the court. They had to learn how to use Zoom efficiently. They had to schedule their work schedules and personal lives in ways they never had to before. Just as judges were getting the hang of working in a different environment, the world started getting back to “normal.” Now, judges and their staffs (and many other workers around the globe) are returning to work, which is causing some of them to have anxiety. The first step in coping with anxiety is to recognize and understand it. Then you can learn ways to cope with it.
Recognize your anxiety
Do you recognize how you react when you are anxious? If so, you have conquered the first step to managing your anxiety. Anxiety is how your body reacts to the threat of danger: upset stomach, headache, sweating, butterflies in your stomach, shallow breathing, tightness in your chest, restlessness, feeling a general sense of doom. For example, when you think about returning to work and you are anxious or stressed about it, you might notice that your heart starts beating faster, your palms begin to sweat, and/or you tell yourself that you cannot go back to the office.
Once you have identified how your body reacts to anxiety, you can learn ways to control it. If you notice that you react to stress by clenching your jaw and your breath becomes labored, you can learn to relax or practice deep breathing exercises when you notice these things happening in your body. If environmental triggers, such as other people, social media, or the news, cause your anxiety, you can learn how to control these as well. If you become anxious when you read the news, recognize it and then make a plan of how much time you will spend reading the news a day. Better yet, eliminate it from your life. Remember that anxiety is your reaction to something, and it’s not a part of your personality that you cannot change.
Now that you know the signs and symptoms of anxiety, talk about it! You are not the only one who might be afraid to go back to the office after the pandemic. Many other people have similar fears about it. It is important to talk to friends, family, co-workers, and/or a therapist about your anxiety.
It is also important to set boundaries with your co-workers, friends and family. Let them know what you are comfortable with doing at the office. If you are still afraid of getting the virus, know that your feelings are not about who is right and who is wrong about the virus. It is your personal choice, and you are allowed to choose. Be prepared for those who might push back at your decision to wear a mask, maintain social distance or get the vaccine. You might want to develop a civil response, such as “You can never be too safe.”
Stay in the present
Living in the present, or mindfulness, is not just a popular phrase. It’s an evidence-backed lifestyle that psychologists recommend for those struggling with anxiety. Being in the present moment, or the “here and now,” means that you are aware and mindful of what is happening at this very moment. You are not distracted by events from the past and you are not worrying about the future. You are centered in the here and now. All of your attention is focused on the present moment.
Simple habits, such as picking out your clothes the night before, packing your briefcase in advance and packing your own lunch, can help you feel more in control and less anxious. Make sure you give yourself enough time in the morning so you do not feel rushed to get out the door, which can contribute to anxiety.
Remember why you wanted to be a judge and think about all of the ways you have helped many people. Think about why you love being a judge.
Have something to look forward to. Planning a long weekend, a night out or just a quiet night in? That is something you can look forward to when work gets hectic, or when you start stressing about going back to the office. You can also look forward to listening to your audiobook on the commute to or from the courthouse, walking your dog when you get home, going to your child’s baseball game, having dinner with your family. We all have so many things to look forward to.
Clearly communicate the back-to-work plan to all employees at the court. Employees will feel better if they know that you have established clear guidelines and you are willing to recognize their concerns. Set aside time to talk to your staff and let them know how you can help them return to work in a positive way.
Ask for help
When your anxiety becomes so extreme that it is keeping you from your responsibilities and interrupting your normal activities, you should seek help. It’s ok to ask for help! You would ask your doctor for help if you had chest pains, right? Asking for help about anxiety is the same as asking for help for any other ailment. Whether it is through deep breathing exercises, mindfulness, talk therapy or medication, you can recover from anxiety. You just need to recognize it, understand it and talk about it.
The Judicial Advisory Group (JAG) is another way to seek help. JAG is a confidential group that works with the Ohio Lawyers Assistance Program (OLAP) to help judges manage life's stresses.
OLAP has saved lives, careers, marriages and families. All inquiries are confidential. (800) 348-4343 / ohiolap.org